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US oil futures sank by more than 11 per cent to trade below US$70 ($98.15) a barrel. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, suffered a similar drop to around US$73 ($102).
UK Health Minister Sajid Javid said the variant “may be more transmissible” than the Delta strain and that “the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective”.
Investors were “spooked” by the discovery of the new COVID-19 variant, Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at Oanda, said in a research note on Friday.
Economists were already nervously watching a spike in COVID-19 infections in Europe. Some countries have introduced new restrictions to contain the spread, raising the prospect of reduced activity this winter at a time when inflation and supply chain woes are already clouding the outlook for growth.
Germany reported 76,414 cases on Friday, a new record for a single day. The country’s acting health minister, Jens Spahn, told reporters that the COVID-19 situation in Europe’s biggest economy was “more serious than at any other time in the pandemic so far” and he warned of “drastic measures in the coming weeks” if decisive action is not taken now to reduce contact between people.
“Beyond the current wave of infections in core Europe, a new variant of the … virus that is spreading rapidly in South Africa is causing serious concerns,” commented economists at Berenberg bank in a note on Friday.
“If Germany were to impose a national lockdown, we would likely have to downgrade our forecasts for German and eurozone GDP for Q4 slightly further,” they added.
Travel and airline stocks are among the biggest fallers Friday.
“With the delta wave in mind from earlier this year, investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known about it,” Halley said.